Abortion, Human Dignity, and Jesus

News of New York’s abortion legislation has left many Christians heartbroken. This is yet another sign that we live in a culture of death, where society’s vulnerable are dismissed or worse, dismembered. Sadly, it’s always the vulnerable who go first. The unborn, the sojourner, the widow, the fatherless. The weak tend to be a secular society’s first victims, often considered less valuable simply because they have less power. When we reject the teaching of Sacred Scripture concerning what grounds human dignity and purpose, it only follows that we’d lose all dignity and purpose.

Just listen to what Oxford historian Yuval Noah Harari, who currently teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says:

When we privilege human children over piglets, we want to believe that this reflects something deeper than the ecological balance of power. We want to believe that human lives really are superior in some fundamental way. We sapiens love telling ourselves that we enjoy some magical quality that not only accounts for our immense power, but also gives moral justification for our privileged status. What is this unique human spark?

In his book Homo Deus, Harari (a self-proclaimed atheist) concludes it doesn’t exist. If mankind isn’t made in God’s image, then we really aren’t any more special than piglets or puppies. When you don’t believe humans have objective dignity, you cannot truly value human life. If you go one step further and reject the belief that humans have objective purpose, then life no longer becomes worth living. 

Happiness Doesn't Lead to Life

Psychologists Shigehiro Oishi and Ed Diener conducted a study in 2014 on suicide rates in different countries and they found something very interesting: happiness by itself doesn’t make life worth living. Their study, which involved close to 140,000 people and over 100 countries, discovered that societies with high levels of happiness and wealth also have some of the highest rates of suicide. 

Some argued that this is because it is especially miserable to be unhappy in a society that is generally happy, but Oishi and Diener’s work provided a different answer. According to journalist Emily Smith, “When they crunched the numbers, they discovered a striking trend: happiness and unhappiness did not predict suicide. The variable that did, they found, was meaning – or, more precisely, the lack of it. The countries with the lowest rates of meaning, like Japan, also had some of the highest suicide rates” (Emily Smith The Power of Meaning, pg. 23).

When you lose dignity and purpose, death is lurking nearby. The Scriptures are clear that God condemns the slaughter of children and will judge it. He abominated the ancient pagan practice of child sacrifice in the Old Testament (2 Kgs. 17:17), and the early Christian church repudiated the common Roman practice of child exposure, whereby an unwanted child would be left to die outside. These past traditions exposed a diminishing value of human life, and we are presently uncovered with the same nakedness.

Abortion and the Image of God

Perhaps you haven’t personally had an abortion, but we all at one time contributed to the slaughter that results from sin. The Bible teaches that all of us have helped give birth to sin, which grows up into death. James said, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death” (Js. 1:14-15).

We are death-bringers by nature, contributing to the devaluing of humanity and often rejecting our God-given purpose to reflect his light and love upon the rest of creation. We had vandalized the image of God in us by sin, therefore God united humanity to himself in the incarnation to renew the divine image. The Church Father, Athanasius, puts it best:

For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood, for, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline renewed upon it; in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being the image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in his likeness, and find him, as one lost, by the remission of sins” (Athanasius On the Incarnation 14).

God loved humanity so much that he didn’t leave us in death but sent the Author of Life to raise us up from it (Acts 3:15). The only perfect human to ever walk the earth, reflecting the light of his Father and living according to his purpose, tasted death for those of us who contributed to a culture of death. After discussing mankind’s royal destiny to rule over the creation, the author to the Hebrews said,

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside of his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:8-9).

Right now we look around us, and it doesn’t seem like everything is in subjection to Jesus. We live in a world that devalues human life from the womb all the way until old age. We lament. But in a world that has embraced a culture of death, here’s where God would have us look: on his Son, Jesus, who knows what death tastes like. He tasted it for you. There’s no sin so great that Jesus can’t forgive it, and no legislation so stable that it will persist through the age to come. May God give us hope as we set our eyes on Jesus, the death-taster, praying, “Your Kingdom come!” And as we pray, let us also learn from Christ to treat all people, especially the most vulnerable, with dignity and respect. 

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